September 06, 2011

Information skills at Warwick: researchers' views.

Follow-up to Survey of Information skills preferences from Library Research Support

In January this year (2011) the Library ran a survey of research staff, on information skills that are valued and that might be developed, amongst University of Warwick researchers. We had over 400 responses and are very grateful to all who took part for the rich and valuable data provided. We have been reviewing the findings of the survey and have used these findings to shape the Library’s information skills offer in the following ways:

- Research Exchange website content is produced by researchers for researchers.
- Research Exchange website is piloting “Research Match”: a light touch profiles tool, designed to connect researchers with other researchers.

Warwick researchers are most likely to turn to other researchers for help with their information skills. 246 said researchers within their department, 119 would ask researchers outside their department. There are a wealth of guides on the Research Exchange website, written by researchers with experience in the topics that they write about: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/researchexchange/ecr/resources

- Effective literature search skills for Research Student Skills Programme (RSSP) participants: more on evaluation of information quality.

Library staff teach PhD students on Warwick's RSSP. One question in our survey asked “how important do you feel are each of the following skills to your work as a researcher?”. Respondents were asked to rate skills in a list on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 = highly important, and 1 = very unimportant. The mean score for each skill was calculated and the skill scoring the greatest average was found to be the “ability to assess the quality of information”. More emphasis on this skill is now being placed in the materials delivered to PhD students at the literature search training sessions which are part of the RSSP.

“Literature/information search planning skills” and the “ability to undertake internet searches for academic needs e.g. using google.” scored the joint second highest average of the information skills listed: these are themes already well covered in the RSSP workshops run by the Library.

When we broke the results down into established researchers' scores and early career researchers' (ECRs) scores, there was relatively little difference in the skills reported as important. In general the more established academic staff rate all these skills as slightly lower in importance than the ECRs with the exception of the “ability to access the quality of information” and “in-depth knowledge of sources or tools for finding published literature for your subject area and how to use them”, which established academics rated slightly more highly.

- Developing information skills materials and workshops

85.5 % of survey respondents felt that there was at least one information skill that they would like to improve, even though they could have skipped this question altogether. The top five areas in which our surveyed researchers expressed an interest in improving their skills were 1) discovering unpublished resources, 2) using reference management software, 3) developing effective search strategies, 4) knowing where to publish their work, and 5) filtering search results.

These themes are already covered in the RSSP workshops for PhD students as well as in the workshops delivered to PhD students in their departments by our Academic Support Librarians."Knowing where to publish" is also covered in a workshop for staff delivered through the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic and Professional Practice (PCAPP) programme run by Warwick's Learning and Development Centre. Our Modern Records Centre delivers training sessions on making the most of archives.

We are also inviting publishers to come to Warwick and deliver author workshops, in order to help our researchers in their understanding of the publication process when choosing where to publish. We are also commissioning online materials from researchers on these themes and have been glad to feature a series on literature searchingon the Researcher to Researcher blog.

There was only one skill which established academics were more interested in developing than the early career researchers, and that was "reference management software". ECRs ranked skills relating to networking and finding out from other researchers much more highly than the established academics did. (Such skills were the 5th and 6th most popular areas highlighted for development for ECRs, compared to 13th and 15th out of 17 options for established academics).

- Online course development: 23 Things for the Digital Professional

We asked about course delivery preferences and researchers reported that the mechanism they preferred depended on the topic being taught. A new, online course is being piloted: "23 Things for the Digital Professional" will run in the forthcoming Autumn term 2011 and it will cover aspects of the five themes including reference management software, tips for effective searching and finding unpublished resources and open access publishing. More information about this online, blog-based course will appear on this blog in due course!

Survey respondents reported that the most useful features of online courses were: textual information (64%) visuals (56%), videos, links to external resources and guided activities (38.6% each) and these will all be features of our 23 Things course.

Many thanks are due to Donna Carroll, the Library's Academic Services Development Manager for running the survey and writing the report. This survey built on the work of the East Midlands Research Support Group, with which Warwick's Library was involved in 2010: a similar survey was run at other Universities in this group and a report comparing the two surveys' results is available to members of the University of Warwick and the East Midlands Research Support Group.

If any researcher at Warwick would like to read a full copy of the report on Warwick's information skills survey or the report comparing this survey with the EMRSG survey then they should get in touch with Jenny Delasalle directly.


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